British Airways ended its financial year on a high, with an operating profit of £875m and for the first time an operating margin of 10 percent. According to Paul Coby, BA’s CIO the figures were the result of a lot of hard work throughout the company, in the face of difficult trading conditions and rising oil costs – BA’s fuel bill last year was in excess of £2 billion.

“Technology underlies every part of BA, and I am very proud of what our IM team has achieved,” he says. “Going forward in this economic climate costs will need to come down in most sectors, so making wise IT investments will be important. We want to give our people the most effective tools to do their jobs.”

In spite of the circus around the opening of Terminal Five this year, all of BA’s IT went in as planned and to specification. This was again the result of a tremendous amount of hard work by the team, according to Coby. The systems that failed when the terminal first opened were the BAA baggage ones.

Next year Coby will be concentrating on three key strategies; updating the platform, preparing for the arrival of its new generation of aircraft and sorting out its back office environment.

The platform, which recently won a Best Airline Website award, is now five years old. “We will use SOA to re-engineer it and this will give us the ability to be even more flexible, and increase our speed to market,” says Coby. “For example, it will be easier to adapt it to local business conditions, which means we can make changes, and introduce and mash with other services and sites in minutes.”

Coby believes the industry is at an interesting stage of maturity with smart phone and PDA technology colliding, so he aims to have the platform ready to make the most of all developments.

The company is also preparing for the new generation of aircraft. “They are flying mobile devices really,” Coby says. “They generate a massive amount of data, and there is still a lot of paper on aircraft, so we want to make sure we are equipped for them. It is very exciting going forward.”

Then there is the back office. After 9/11 BA decided its strategic priorities were its customers, its operations and the back office was deliberately left until last, according to Coby. “It is prosaic but we have tons and tons of back office legacy,” he says. “Although the legacy systems are Victorian compared to the rest of BA’s IT, they are fit for purpose, but slow. We need to address this.”

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